Marketer of the Year 2012: McDonald’s Canada

"Our Food. Your Questions" redefined transparency, making McDonald's top of mind

Kristin Laird January 23, 2013

“Our Food. Your Questions” redefined transparency, made McDonald’s top of mind

In 2012, McDonald’s Canada stood up, faced the world wide web and said “Bring it.”

As one of the country’s largest quick service chains, the company was convinced there were certain myths and misconceptions surrounding its packaging, product launches, the quality of its food and the way in which that food was prepared. Research established that a lot of these myths were seeded and growing within the social space. So that’s where McDonald’s decided to direct a bold campaign to face these misconceptions head on and use transparency to put any negative rumours to rest.

With the “Our Food. Your Questions.” digital platform, consumers were encouraged to ask their toughest questions. In exchange, McDonald’s promised to step up and provide clear and concise answers.

It was a courageous and savvy move that recognizes the importance of creating a kinship with consumers, says Alex Sévigny, director of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program.

“Trust and reputation are becoming a fundamental part of building a brand and maintaining a brand community. The McDonald’s campaign is great in that respect. It’s absolutely brave because it required them to give the public a backstage pass to how things work.”

It was the open, honest kind of approach that can silence the harshest of critics, turn a fence-sitter into a fan or, if it backfires, risk alienating consumers unsatisfied with the answers. For McDonald’s Canada, fielding inquiries from the Canadian public through its “Our Food. Your Questions.” digital platform was a way of staying relevant in a day and age where business practices are constantly called into question for all brands in all categories.

Remaining relevant is particularly important for fast food brands facing intense competition for market share and increased skepticism from consumers who are demonstrating their preferences for healthy food.

It is becoming increasingly important for McDonald’s to focus on its food quality message and the other unique attributes that it believes set it apart from competitors, especially with the popularity of high-end burger shops on the rise, and the introduction of breakfast sandwiches from rival shops like Tim Hortons.

McCafé's coffee challenge

This past year, McDonald’s made several pushes to raise quality, such as with McCafé Premium Roast take home coffee (see “Bean there, doing that,” pg. 26), and to offer healthier alternatives, like its Real Fruit Smoothie line.

But it’s one thing to make changes. The bigger challenge was getting that message through to consumers, especially to those who were spreading the wrong message in the social sphere.

The project was born from a conversation around QR codes, but the idea quickly evolved and became “a conversation engine,” says Andrew McCartney, managing director of Tribal DDB, the Toronto agency that developed “Our Food. Your Questions.”

It was a tactical request that became a strategic conversation. McDonald’s had seen an opportunity to use QR codes on its packaging to drive consumers online to a series of FAQs on its food quality. Not long after Tribal won digital agency of record, Joel Yashinsky, McDonald’s Canada SVP and chief marketing officer, sat down with the team and invited them to share any and all big ideas they felt the chain should take advantage of, explains McCartney.

“It really fired up our team and I would say it was that pep talk which gave us the freedom to think in a really big way to bring them this program,” says McCartney, who is quick to credit the progressive marketing team at McDonald’s.

One of the opportunities was to introduce a full-blown digital campaign that allowed McDonald’s to have interactive, one-to-one conversations with consumers to help resolve any misunderstanding surrounding the brand or its food practices, says Michelle Mcilmoyle, senior national marketing manager at McDonald’s.

“Canadians were talking about our brand perhaps not in a factual manner and we wanted to get into that [social] space and leverage the social environment with our facts and our story and change those perceptions that Canadians have about our brand.”

Bagozzi, Yashinsky and Mcilmoyle

“Our Food. Your Questions.” launched in the spring with a YouTube video directing visitors to a dedicated website where they could submit questions about the brand by logging in through their Twitter or Facebook account. One of the most memorable and talked about videos features Hope Bagozzi, creative and national marketing director at McDonald’s Canada, explaining why a hamburger looks different in advertising than it does when purchased from the restaurant. It generated close to eight million views by the end of the year.

Visitors to the site can look through other questions and use their own social channels to share questions and receive notifications once McDonald’s answers them.

As a global food service retailer, McDonald’s had the advantage of drawing from campaigns and product launches that have been successful in other markets. Experiences to draw on included the 2006 pre-social era rudimentary McDonald’s UK website titled, “Make up your own mind,” which was part of an ambitious brand revitalization that invited consumers to ask any questions they may have about the brand.

“We’re certainly able to leverage the strengths of a global brand and a global company and pick up the best practices that exist elsewhere,” says Bagozzi.

The company also benefited from its marketing independence in going for something tailored to a Canadian audience. “We really have a belief in this company that you should be really focused on your customer, and the customer needs in each country can be quite unique and quite different and we want to be relevant to the customers in our marketplace.” With a Canadian-specific approach to “Our Food. Your Questions.” McDonald’s Canada continued its tradition of commissioning solid, made-in-Canada advertising rather than picking up creative from the U.S.

While McDonald’s had a fairly strong social media footprint before “Our Food. Your Questions.” through its Twitter and Facebook accounts, the company positioned the project as a responsive rather than proactive approach.

In August, McDonald’s promoted the digital project with a four-week “offline” advertising campaign that included a 30-second television commercial, wild postings, video projections on buildings and transit dominations in key markets across Canada.

To date, the chain has answered 19,000 questions, and counting. The “Our Food. Your Questions” portion of McDonald’s website has garnered more than one million hits. And McDonald’s says visitors are spending an average of four and a half minutes and reading approximately 12 questions.

There’s more! To read the full story of McDonald’s Canada’s amazing year, pick up the latest issue of Marketing by subscribing to either our print magazine or our iPad edition.

To read more about our Agency of the Year and Media Player of the Year, as well our list of 30 finalists, visit Of The Year 2012